The Indiana Pacers have shown tremendous composure in their play this month. The overall execution may not have been the sharpest in the team's last eleven games, but as they improve to 9-2 since the debacle in New Jersey, 8-1 in the month of April, they've done so in a variety of ways, but the common theme is their execution in late game situations. There's something to be said about what the Pacers have been able to accomplish at the end of games to erase any transgressions that may have come to light, and tonight was no exception, when the Pacers were held scoreless for three minutes, but didn't budge an inch to a Bucks team trailing by just three.
Out of the game, the Pacers were scorching. That is, the front court of Roy Hibbert, Danny Granger, and David West were scorching. The Milwaukee front line had no way to contain a trio that shot 80% to open the game, scoring the first 24 of the game and 26 of the team's 27 first quarter points. Despite the hot shooting and clinic by the front court, Milwaukee managed to hang around thanks to a healthy free throw advantage and Pacers turnovers. In the second quarter, Tyler Hansbrough, keyed in on crushing Mike Dunleavy, gave Indiana a seven point lead that turned into a Milwaukee run to tie the game in what was a series of runs throughout the night.
With the Bucks outshooting the Pacers at the line 17-5 late in the second, Paul George broke his scoreless streak, leading the Pacers to a free throw stretch to help even out the stats and give Indiana a double digit lead into halftime. Out of the half, the Bucks responded quickly to cut the game to three, as the Pacers again relied on their starting front court to pave the way through any offensive struggles. After blanking in the first half, Leandro Barbosa hit a trio of three pointers to put Indiana up 8 early in the fourth quarter, but another Milwaukee run would eventually put them down just 3 with four minutes to go following a Dunleavy three.
From there, the Pacers couldn't buy a bucket, but when it came down to Milwaukee needing to make plays on the offensive side, it was the Pacers who instead stood up defensively. A huge advantage for Indiana was Milwaukee's free throw shooting in the fourth quarter. With the game on the line, the Bucks missed all five of their FT attempts in the quarter, as Roy Hibbert avoided recent Pacers infamy by going to the free throw line six times and calmly sinking all six to put an increasingly testy Bucks team to rest, improving to 38-22, and keeping the third seed on lock down.
The Pacers continue to find new ways to win, but the common theme in each of them is how their composure and resiliency is playing a huge key in their wins. The argument can be made that the Pacers playing poorly won't help in the postseason against better opponents, but at the same time, Indiana is winning games by any means necessary, boasting the league's best record in April and completing a perfect week in the process.
After the jump, a total team effort:
- While seven players reached double figures, it was the front court onslaught of Danny Granger, Roy Hibbert, and David West that helped the Pacers early and often. For Roy, it was a big night against a frustrated Milwaukee front line that couldn't keep up with him. The big fella was in full Hungry Hungry mode, totaling 23 points and 14 rebounds, but most importantly, dropping in 9-10 from the line, including six down the stretch.
- Danny Granger was lethal from inside the arc. Though he struggled outside, just 1-6, he was 8-11 inside, grabbing 7 boards to go alongside his 21 on the night. Granger continued his top tier play, coming up when the team needed him, even sticking a shot right in the grill of Mike Dunleavy for good measure. David West didn't shoot particularly well, but was a huge key in the first and third quarters to give the Pacers an unstoppable scoring option as the rest of the team fell around.
- George Hill came up with some nice shots, but wasn't quite the PG prospect he has been in his starts. For all the good play Hill has had in his recent starting stretch, he's not shown himself to be much more than a ball handling 2. Darren Collison still facilitates the offense better, and when A.J. Price continues to struggle both in shooting and facilitating, there still hasn't been enough to be convinced Hill is a better starting option than DC.
- Paul George continues to struggle down the stretch, at least in a mental standpoint, which makes one wonder if he's certainly exhausted mentally. When given opportunities tonight, he often was a step slower mentally than he needed to be in order to come up with a play, but hustled well and made his free throws. There doesn't seem to be much concern with George physically, but he is in the need of a few days off mentally to get his head right for the team's postseason.
- Off the bench, Leandro Barbosa continued to show many positives and many negatives. After missing his first 10 shots, Barbosa shot himself out of his slump with 3 three pointers, totaling ten points. Tyler Hansbrough had himself a focused and physical game, getting 10 points and getting to the line when the refs left him there. In typical Tyler fashion, when he was fouled, it was the Milwaukee who ended up on the floor, and there was certainly no love loss between Hansbrough and Dunleavy in their in-game interactions.
The testy feelings that came to light late in the game between Larry Sanders and Roy Hibbert followed by Brandon Jennings and Danny Granger showed the importance of the game for the Bucks, a game the Pacers stripped from Milwaukee. It's always good to win, but it's not a bad way to win the way they've won lately. Elsewhere in the league, Boston came out 94-92 winners in New Jersey to further stake their claim as potential Atlantic Division champions.
The Pacers will take the court Monday at home against Minnesota, but plenty of opportunities to scoreboard watch will be available with New York hosting Miami, Orlando traveling to Cleveland, Toronto at Atlanta, and Boston heading south to Charlotte. The Pacers took care of business tonight, making tomorrow's games easier to enjoy.